School Board July 23-Chad Aguillard

Pointe Coupee Parish School Board member Chad Aguillard speaks against the plan to open face-to-face classes when the school year opens Aug. 11. Shown in the background during the July 23 meeting are Superintendent Kim Canezaro and Board President Tom Nelson.

Pointe Coupee Parish School Board members voted 8-2 on July 23 to uphold plans that include the option of both face-to-face learning and virtual formats when schools reopen Aug. 11.

The vote capped a lengthy and sometimes contentious discussion on whether the school system should delay the start of face-to-face learning as a safeguard against the novel coronavirus.

The board’s decision followed Superintendent Kim Canezaro’s recommendation to offer parents the option to send their children to campuses or keep them at home.

The board and school administrators want to get the youngest students – pre-K through second grade – in school first, while they would also devise a plan that would allow students the option of face-to-face classes or virtual learning.

Approximately 50 percent of the parents surveyed requested virtual learning. The large response to virtual learning allowed the School Board to offer face-to-face classes within the Phase II guidelines of 50 percent capacity, and without having to create alternate schedules.

The plan complies with guidelines the state Board of Elementary and Secondary approved last week, based on recommendations from Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Courtney Phillips and state Department of Education Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley.

Board President Tom Nelson and board member Chad Aguillard cast the opposing votes on the motion to uphold opening plans.

“I felt our superintendent put in a lot of time on a plan that allows us to open legally and safely,” he said.

“I’d prefer an opinion from the medical side rather than the political side, and I feel very comfortable with a recommendation from the medical side rather than the political side in Washington.”

He said Canezaro would have the authority to change that decision before or after the opening of school Aug. 11.

The spike in cases, which brought the total over the 100,000 mark the same day as the meeting, should have served as a red flag against opening face-to-face classes, Chad Aguillard said.

Chad Aguillard said he believed the case total and continued spread threaten the well-being of students on campus.

“All of the medical evidence we’re getting from the state and Region 2 tonight makes it clear to me that opening school right now is unsafe,” he said. “Our first priority should be the children, the teachers and families.”

The discussion followed a phone discussion with officials from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, who told board members they ultimately had the final decision on whether to open classes in Phase II.

But the officials emphasized they did not anticipate the recent surge -- which was expected for the fall – and said it was impossible to predict how the pandemic will affect the public in coming months.

They also alluded to the surge in cases in the 18-29 age group.

Children under 10 are less susceptible to the virus, they said, but Louisiana has reported positive cases in kids as young as 9, including some who have been placed in intensive care units.

They said schools likely will have cases, based on children or teachers who may contract it and bring it on campus.

Nelson, who said the decision was the toughest he has made in 50 years on the School Board, recommended a nine-week delay on the start of face-to-face classes.

He said he believed the move would give the school system more time to see which direction the pandemic would go and would lessen the risk of cases and deaths.

The opening could face another obstacle. Laptops the school system ordered for virtual learning have not yet arrived.

Delivery was set for the middle of July, but Pointe Coupee Parish faces the same dilemma as other school systems nationwide due to the extremely high demand, Canezaro sa